Tuesday night, the House Finance Committee discussed the pending bill to authorize casino gambling at Twin River in Lincoln. The Providence Journal reports that the original bill has been revised to authorize online gambling at Twin River, as well as to provide some additional financial relief for Newport Grand, to permit the State Lottery to increase the license fees to the vendors that supply the video lottery terminals, and to instruct the General Assembly to determine the State's share of gambling revenues if the new table games are authorized by the voters.
Apparently, there was no vote on a revised bill, and there is no amendment available on the General Assembly's legislation website. The Journal article indicates that Committee Chairman Helio Melo may offer up the new proposal as an amendment to the $7.7 billion budget bill being debated later this week or next week.
Approval of any expansion in the existing gambling offerings at Twin River and Newport Grand would require voter approval of an amendment to the RI Constitution. Similar proposals were defeated by the voters, most recently in 1994 and 2006. Another proposal to put the question to a voter referendum passed the General Assembly in 2010, but was vetoed by Governor Carcieri.
It is not clear whether or not an online gambling offering would need to be approved by Congress as well. The Department of Justice takes the position that the federal Wire Act prohibits all forms of online gambling. At least one federal court, however, has held that the 1964 law only applies to sports gambling. The U.S. Supreme Court has not decided the issue.
The General Assembly should be wrapping up the 2011 session in the next week or two. Stay tuned for further developments.